Saturday, April 29, 2006

danny's lifetime all-star team: installment #1- the infield

Okay, I haven't posted anything about sports in a while, and my fans have been clamoring for me to catch up. And by "fans" I mean "no one." Here's the deal, what follows is three installments of my baseball all-star team of players that played within my memory. In other words, the best players of the past 20 years or so at each position. It's a bit subjective, and I play with the boundaries a bit, but that's my prerogative, right? I invite discussion, although I'm sure that you will find that my picks are impeccable.

Just a note, this self-imposed task is possibly more difficult than any other era simply because of the steroids controversy. I mean, it isn't fair to compare Sammy Sosa to Jim Rice when Sosa cheated and Rice was "all natural" (another case for him to be in the Hall of Fame, but don't get me started). Even beyond the steroid use, the game has been changed in a way to favor the hitters over the pichers: a smaller strike zone (the most underrated reason for the rise in homeruns over other eras) and a more tightly-wound ball (allegedly) have also changed numbers. But, I think I'm up to the task. And since I'm setting the rules, please note that I am factoring in steroid use. Some guys we know took (or are taking) steroids, others are suspected, etc. I factor all that in. All statistics do not include this season. Enjoy.

1st base: Here's a position that is hurt by the steroid controversy. Mark McGwire is off my list, as is Rafael Palmeiro (who wasn't on it anyway). There have been a number of good 1st baseman (Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder), but few great. Frank Thomas is one of my favorites, a huge man sans steroids and one of the best all around offensive players of his generation (many forget how great he was). The problem is that he couldn't field and threw like a girl. So I can't choose him. Finally, I am going with Albert Pujols. What's that you say? He's only played 5 full seasons? He's only played 1st since 2004? Who cares? This is my list, so get over it! In his first 5 seasons he's batting .332, hit 201 homeruns (40.2 average) with 621 RBI (104.2 average). That is unbelievable! He was the Rookie of the Year (ROY) in '01, MVP in '05 and batting leader in '03. He's already a 3-time Silver Slugger winner (award given to the best hitter at each position) and a 4-time All Star. And though I'm not including this year, I'll just mention that he has already hit 14 HR in April, which is a record. He's only getting better.

2nd base: There aren't a lot of great options here, I must admit. In fact, I wanted to get sentimental and mention Marty Barrett (2nd baseman for the Red Sox in the '80's), but I won't. Instead, I think this honor clearly goes to Roberto Alomar. He won the Gold Glove in 91-96 and 98-01. He won 4 Silver Sluggers, he's a career .300 hitter and a 12-time All Star. I'll remember him most as one-half of what may have been the greatest fielding SS-2B combo ever, with Omar Vizquel. I think God gave us highlight reels just to watch these two guys.

SS: This has been the greatest era of shortstops ever. In the past, great shortstops came around every so often (Honus Wagner, Luke Appling, Joe Cronin, Ernie Banks), and that's if we define "great" broadly. However, in my lifetime I can name a few. Ozzie Smith is generally regarded as the greatest fielding shortstop ever, and Omar Vizquel is not far behind. In fact, Vizquel would have been more highly regarded if it weren't for the fact that he played at the same time as the Big Three. Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have revolutionized the position. If I would have made this list back around 2000, Nomar would have been my guy for this position. He was the best hitter in baseball in the late '90s. Jeter was never the best, but he is a sure Hall of Famer. And although I think he's been overrated in some areas of his game (he's no where near a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, what a joke), you have to admire his ability to perform in the clutch and make plays when needed. We Red Sox fans know that all too well.

But I have to go with Alex Rodriguez with this one. I realize that he is now playing 3rd base, in fact Jeter is the shortstop on the Yankees, not A-Rod. But, that's more out of respect for Jeter (the captain of the Yankees), I have no doubt in my mind that A-Rod is a better shortstop. Anyway, it pains me to put Rodriguez here. I don't like him. He wears lipstick, can't hit in the clutch and girl-slapped Bronson Arroyo (which isn't so much loathesome as it is funny). At any rate, here's his credentials. He's a career .307 hitter with 429 HR (in just 12 seasons). He's won 2 Gold Gloves, 4 HR titles, 1 batting title, 8 Silver Sluggers, 9 All Star games and won the MVP in '05. And he's still going. But, both teams he's left (Seattle and Texas) got better the year after he left, and of course let's not forget he wears lipstick.

3rd base: Like shortstop, I think more great 3rd basemen have played in the last 3 decades than in all of baseball history (especially now that Alex Rodriguez has moved there). There's Wade Boggs, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005. He's a career .328 hitter, with 3010 hits, 2 Gold Gloves, 8 Silver Sluggers, 5 batting titles, 12-time All Star and 7 straight 200+ hit seasons, which is a record. On the down side, it was his much publicized affair that taught me what adultery was.

George Brett is another great one. Career .305 average, 3154 hits, a Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers, and a 12-time All Star. He also won the MVP in 1980, when he batted .390. He also is the only player who won batting titles in 3 different decades ('76, '80, '90). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, and is worshipped in Kansas City (I know this from first hand experience). Also, the infamous pinetar incident is one of my favorite baseball memories.

But, in the end, I must go with Mike Schmidt. He won 3 MVPs ('80, '81, '86), Gold Gloves from 1976-84 and in '86. He led the league in HR 8 times and had 6 Silver Sluggers. This 12-time All Star's 548 career HR got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995. Now, I realize I might be cheating a bit putting him on my list, since his last full season was in 1987 (he played hurt the next two years, suddenly retiring early in the '89 season). But, as I stated above, this is my list, and I love Mike Schmidt.

Catcher: This is a tough one for me. I could choose Mike Piazza, who was selected in the 62nd round (why does anyone even pay scouts?). He was the ROY in 1991, a 10-time Silver Slugger and a 12-time All Star. He has a .311 career average, which is remarkable for a catcher. The problem is that he was (and still is) an awful catcher. I can't accept that. So, I think I'm going with Ivan Rodriguez. This is hard, because there is a lot of suspicion that he used steroids, which wouldn't really be surprising. But, he's a career .304 hitter, 7-time Silver Slugger, 12-time All Star and won an MVP in 1999. Most notable are his Gold Gloves, which he won from 1992-2001 and again in 2004. Now, he was considered a less-than-average game caller (although some say that has changed), but anyone who dared to steal on him was sure to be disappointed. I've never seen a catcher throw out runners like him (and I watched a lot of Tony Pena as a kid, who was probably the best of his era). But, I reserve the right to change this given more evidence of steroid use.

danny's lifetime all-star team: installment #2- the outfield

Here's part 2, which covers the outfielders. This is the shortest of the three installments, so if you've gotten through the first one this one should be a piece of cake. Oh, and for the sake of my friend Greenbow, I want to say that Dale Murphy belongs on anyone's list. It's just that he's so good I didn't think it fair to include him. (I need one of those eye-roll face things).

Outfield: For the record, I'm not really picking these guys based on what positions they played in the outfield. You will not see Sammy Sosa on this list, who can credit his impressive numbers to rampant steroid use (and a corked bat). However, you will see...

Barry Bonds. Okay, here's the deal. I'm not even including his steroid years, starting in '98 or '99. Even before he decided to be a cheater he was the best player in baseball. So, for the sake of my list, we will pretend he hasn't played since the late '90s. He won 3 MVPs ('90, '92, '93), won Gold Gloves in 90-94 and 96-98 and 7 Silver Sluggers (again, before steroids). He won the HR title in 1993, and was an 8-time All Star. If only he didn't ruin his reputation forever.

One player who, in my mind, benefits from the steroid controversy is Ken Griffey Jr. I always thought he was a bit overrated. I've had to reevaluate that, since he was able to put up his numbers without steroids (as far as anyone knows). He won Gold Gloves from 1990-99 (although I'm not sure he always deserved those), 7 Silver Sluggers, 4 HR titles, and an MVP in '97. He's a 12-time All Star and has 536 HR coming into this season. Like I said, if he did all of this without enhancement from illegal substances, I'm impressed.

The last spot on my list is more difficult. I considered Tony Gwynn, a career .338 hitter. He won Gold Gloves in '86-87 and '89-91. More impressive are his 7 Silver Sluggers and 8 batting titles, which includes his .394 in 1994. He may have made a run at .400 if that season weren't shortened by a strike. He was also a 15-time All Star and had 3141 career hits. I love this guy. But, I may have to leave him off (although as I'm writing this I'm having second thoughts).

Instead, I think I'll go with Manny Ramirez. To put it plainly, I think Manny may be the best all around hitter I've seen (although give Pujols some time). Manny is an 8-time Silver Slugger winner, 9-time All Star and the 2004 World Series MVP (remember that one, when the Red Sox swept the Cardinals after they came back from being down 0-3 against the Yankees in the greatest comeback in sports history? do you remember that one? because I do). He has a career .314 average with 435 HR and 1414 RBI. And that's only in 13 seasons (in case you're scoring at home, that's 33.5 HR and 109 RBI per season). He's the best RBI man since, well, maybe Hank Aaron. He's also 2nd all time in career grand slams. Some grow tired of his antics, but I can look past that as long as he hits (many people forget that Ted Williams was not well liked in his time, most now look past it because he was the best hitter ever). Since I don't have a DH position on this list, I could move him there and put Gwynn in my outfield.

danny's lifetime all-star team: installment #3- the pitchers

Here's part 3, covering the pitchers. This is one of my favorite topics, as you will see below. As stated in the earlier installments, statistics are given up through the end of 2005.

Starting Pitcher: I've resigned myself to picking only one man for this spot. Someday I hope to sit down and write out my thoughts about the great pitchers of this era. The past couple decades have seen what I would call the greatest foursome of pitchers in any era of baseball: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. That's right, in the era known for homeruns and drug use, I maintain that the true story should be the greatness of these four men. I don't think there has ever been a group of four pitchers who pitched at the same time who were as great as these four. Anyway, here's the quick rundown of each guy, with my choice for this team.

Greg Maddux will forever be known as one of the smartest pitchers in baseball history. He never had overpowering stuff (unlike the other 3 guys on my list), he relied on location, late movement and out-thinking his opponent. In 20 seasons (before this year), he has amassed318 wins, 3052 Ks (which surprised me) and a 3.01 ERA. He has won 4 Cy Youngs, 4 ERA titles, and led the league in wins 3 times. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to have amassed 300 wins, 3000 strikeouts and have less than 1000 walks. He had a .905 win % in 1995 (which I believe is the third best ever) and is an 8-time All Star. And I haven't even mentioned that he has won 15 Gold Gloves (1990-2002, 2004-05), second only to Jim Kaat's 16.

Randy Johnson is one of the most intimidating pitchers ever (especially in his mullet days). He's also been involved in two of the funniest moments in recent memory: throwing over John Kruk's head in the All Star Game and accidentally hitting a bird in flight, causing it to explode. But beyond that, here are his numbers. In 18 seasons he has won 263 games, collected 4372 strikeouts and has a 3.11 ERA. He has won 5 Cy Young awards, 4 ERA titles, 1 wins title and 9 K titles. He's a 10-time All Star and his 10.95 strikeouts per 9 innings is an all time best. He also set a World Series record with 3 wins in the 2001 World Series.

Pedro Martinez is a little different than the other three. Pedro's greatness was for a shorter period of time (I realize he's doing well now, proving once again it's nice to pitch in the National League), but his peak was higher than any of the other three. In 14 seasons he has a career record of 197-84 (he won his 200th the other day), which gives him a .701 win %- good enough for 3rd all time. His 2.72 career ERA is best among active pitchers (Maddux's 3.01 is next) and he has 2861 career Ks (he'll pass 3000 before the end of the year). He has won 3 Cy Youngs (and got robbed on at least one other, maybe two), 5 ERA titles, 3 K titles and 1 wins title. He's a 7-time All Star and his 10.25 strikeouts per 9 innings is 3rd all time. He also won the pitcher's Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, Ks and ERA) in 1999.

But there are a couple other things to mention. First, he had three pitches he could throw at any time. His fastball was nasty, his curveball embarrased hitters and his changeup was quite possibly the best ever. He's one of few pitchers who could throw any of those pitches even when he was behind the count. Second, his relief appearance against the Indians in the 1999 postseason will go down as one of the greatest performances in modern postseason history. He had hurt his back earlier in the series, but came on in relief in an 8-8 game. It was obvious he was hurt and didn't have his best stuff, yet he threw 6 innings of no-hit ball- against a powerful Indians lineup that had beat up on Red Sox pitching. The Sox won that game, which was the final game of the series. Third, and most importantly, his 1999 and 2000 seasons were the most dominant of any pitcher in baseball history (relative to the rest of the league). No one has been that much better than the rest of the league. In 1999 he had 5 more wins than the next closest guy and 113 more Ks. In 2000 he had 72 more strikeouts than the next guy (didn't win the wins title). In 1999 he had a 2.07 ERA, the next closest guy in the American League was David Cone with a 3.44- a 1.37 difference! Shoot, Johnson won the National League ERA title that year with a 2.48, which was still bested by Pedro (even though he pitched in the AL, which normally causes ERAs to skyrocket). In 2000 Pedro had a 1.74 ERA (it's hard to explain how amazing this is in the AL at this time), the next best in the Majors was Kevin Brown with a 2.58 (winning the NL title), and the next best in the AL was Clemens at a 3.70! There has never been a pitcher who was that much better than everyone else (that much better than Hall of Famers!).

But, there is one pitcher who dominated for a prolonged period of time, and that man is Roger Clemens. I've posted about Clemens before, so I don't think I need to bash him again. I hate to admit it, but he's the best pitcher I've ever seen. Pedro's highest point ('99-00) was higher than anything Clemens did, but Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball in the second half of the '80s and is still going strong today. In 22 seasons he has collected 341 wins, 4502 Ks (2nd all time), a 3.12 ERA, 7 Cy Youngs (a record), 7 ERA titles, 4 wins titles, 5 K titles and 2 pitcher's Triple Crowns (1997-98). He's an 11-time All Star and an MVP (1986), which is difficult to do as a pitcher. To give an idea of his longevity, he won his first Cy Young in 1986 and his seventh in 2004. That is what separates him from everyone else (although he did win that last one in the NL, after being just a decent pitcher in the AL before this).

Relief Pitcher: Really, this position is for the best closer of my lifetime. Most people simply say "Mariano Rivera" and leave it at that. He may be the best closer ever, but I think people have forgotten about Dennis Eckersley. Eck pitched in 24 seasons, but only 12 as a closer. In those 12 final season he amassed 382 saves (he had 8 saves earlier in his career), 2 saves titles, 4 All Star appearances (2 more as a starter) and 2 AL Rolaids Relief Awards (for best reliever). He also won the Cy Young award in 1992, as well as the MVP that same year (as a closer!). He was also elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004. The bottom line is that he was as dominant as anyone who has ever closed a game. I just want Eck to get his due.

Mariano Rivera has quite the resume too. In 11 seasons he has a 2.33 ERA, 379 saves, 7 All Star games, 3 saves titles and 4 AL Rolaids Relief Awards. He is generally regarded as "untouchable." It looked as if that might be changing during the years of 2001-2004, but then he goes out last year and makes 22 consecutive appearances without giving up a run! The bottom line is that he has been dominant.

Both pitchers were seen as almost unhittable, yet both have blown major games. Eckersley will always be remembered for giving up the HR to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series (with Gibson limping up to the plate then pumping his fists as he ran around the bases). Rivera gave up the game winning hit to Luis Gonzalez in Game 7 in the 2001 World Series, as well as getting beat by the Red Sox in both Game 4 & 5 in the 2004 ALCS. That's three games. However, and this is very important, he has been placed in more of those situations than any closer ever. He has time and time again been put in difficult situations, it's bound to catch up to him eventually. Anyway, this is a difficult decision for me. In the end, I have to ask this question: if I needed one guy to win a game for me, who would I choose. I think I have to go with Mariano Rivera. But I might change my mind in 5 minutes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

You Can Have Your Best Life Now

Let me share a couple stories. First is from the recent New York Times article about the bestselling author and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen. Joel shared in one of his sermons about a time when he was driving around in a large parking lot (it may have been a mall parking lot, I can't remember right now) and began to pray that he would receive a good spot since it was full. Sure enough, God answered his prayer he claims, and he not only got a spot, but the best spot available.

Another is from a sermon I heard Keith Wheeler give over a year ago. Keith is a guy who has carried a cross in dozens of countries across the world and shared the gospel in places where others have never dared to go. One time Keith was walking down a road (I believe it was in South Africa) and was sweating profusely from the incredible heat. At some point in his journey he says to the Lord, "you know, I could really go for an Orange Fanta right now" and keeps going. Not long later, a nice car pulls up beside him and the window rolls down. A nice lady had stopped to offer him some Orange Fanta she had in her cooler. Of course Keith gladly takes the needed refreshment.

These two stories are fairly similar- both men pray for something they really want at that time and seem to have their prayers answered. However, they draw two completely different conclusions from these events.

Mr Osteen goes on to tell his audience that this is the type of blessing we should be praying for and God wants to give us. God doesn't just want to give us a parking space, He wants us to have the best parking space. Mr Wheeler sees this as a humorous example of God's provision. Mr Osteen sees his example as a small part of a larger principle- God wants you to have the best stuff. Mr Wheeler didn't draw any major principles regarding God's desire to answer every prayer we offer up. He didn't use this as an argument for God granting every little desire we have- a nice car, job, parking spot or soda. He never said, "because God gave me Orange Fanta I know that God also wants me to have the best of everything else" (besides, if God wanted to give him the best soda He would have given him fountain Pepsi).

Let's suppose for a second that God did answer Joel Osteen's prayer for a nice parking space. Is this a sign of God's favor? I mean, doesn't Paul say that God gave man to his desires to worship gods other than him, and they are now living with the consequences of that decision (read Romans 1:18-32 for the whole context)? I'm not comparing asking for a nice parking spot with worshipping idols or sexual immorality, but what I'm saying is that God allowing us to have our desires is not automatically a sign of favor.

After all, doesn't Jesus Himself say "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first"? Doesn't he say to His disciples, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:43-44)? What if Joel Osteen getting that spot meant some elderly person had to walk a quarter-mile to do their shopping? Is that being a servant to all? Is that what the Lord would have us do? Maybe I missed the verse where it says if you pastor a big enough church and sell enough books that means you're exempt from such things.

Osteen's book is called "Your Best Life Now." And you know, maybe he and others are living their best life now. That's too bad, because it seems to me that there is a life to come that is supposed to be better than this one. And with all the verses in the Bible that laud humilty and self-sacrifice I'm betting that'll count more in the time to come.

Sometimes God, for whatever reason He has determined in His sovereign plan, does answer the little prayers we offer, like Keith Wheeler's. Sometimes, He chooses not to do so. We can't always draw up a formula for these things. And for those who have ever heard me teach, you've probably heard me use the phrase "God is not a vending machine." I'm afraid that folks like Joel Osteen have turned God into just that- a vending machine where you need the proper amount of "faith" or whatever. I prefer Keith Wheeler's version, God has a sense of humor and is always faithful to provide, and once in a while He gives us a small, seemingly insignificant glimpse of the truth that He hears our prayers.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Who God is and what we do

This past Tuesday night I was teaching in the training school at my church. It was my assignment to teach James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude (all in a hour and a half, which is a lot of fun). It's always a fun experience and I generally learn a lot not only in preparing, but in teaching it. One of the things we talked about was the connection of theology and ethics. Perhaps the most clear example of this occurs in 1 Peter (who is quoting Leviticus): "you shall be holy, for I am holy" (1:16).

The thought is this: because (insert theological statement here) you should (insert ethical command here). In this case: because God is holy, we too should be holy. Simple enough. This connection is seen all over the Bible. In Exodus 20, before God gives the Ten Commandments, He starts with "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (v2). After the Lord lays out who He is and what He has done for His people He proceeds to tell them how they should act.

This same thought process occurs in the famous passage in Philippians 2. Paul starts with the ethical commands for unity and self-deference (vv1-4), then he gives them the basis for this command- Christ's sacrificial attitude (vv5-11). Because Christ Himself emptied Himself on behalf of others, so we should do the same. Paul also uses this pattern on a larger scale in Ephesians. Chapters 1-3 are full of theology (election, calling, the unity of Jew & Gentile, etc), while 4-6 contain the actions we should take because of everything he talks about in the first 3 chapters. This is made quite clear in 4:1, where Paul says "I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."

The point is this: everything we are called to do- every command given to us as the people of God- is rooted in the character of God. God doesn't simply say "do this because I say so" (although if He did we ought to pay attention). We are to live humbly because we have received undeserved grace from Him ("undeserved grace" is an intentional redundancy). We are to forgive because He has forgiven us. And so on. I find this quite freeing.

But something hit me this morning as I was pacing around in my kitchen before I left for work. This is why Jesus says "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15, see also 1 John 2:3-6 for something very similar). He isn't arbitrary or needy. This isn't a perverse form of manipulation like it is often used in our time (how many guys have used the "if you love me..." line to take advantage of a girl?). He's stating something deeper: "what I am commanding you to do is based in who I am, so if you love Me, you'll love to do what I command."

This is why John can stress to his readers, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). It is not a burden to do as the Lord says! If it is a burden, it's because we misunderstand and don't appreciate who Jesus is and what He has done for us. It should not be a burden to serve someone you love- it is a joy!

Do I delight in serving the Lord? Do I delight in His commands? Do I delight in Him- what He has done for me on the cross and in the empty tomb? I confess that I often feel burdened in trying to live a holy life. This, however, just reveals my lack of comprehension of all that Jesus has done for me. My ethics/actions should be grounded in who He is, but they often are not. I have some repenting to do.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Resurrection of Jesus and Faith

I love Easter. It's my favorite holiday- yes, even more than Christmas. It isn't just the nice weather that comes in this time of year, although I appreciate that. It isn't just seeing folks wear their Easter best to church (I actually don't, shame on me). It's what this day represents. I love the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I love reading about it, singing about it, thinking about it. I love that it happened. It is the single most revolutionary event in the history of this world.

I also love the television shows that come along with Easter, as frustrating as they can be. I watch whatever I can, just to see what scholars they ask to speak and what they say. There's the usual suspects: John Dominic Crossan espousing some ridiculous view for the sake of being unorthodox, there's Craig Evans who offers the voice of reason, and there's usually N T Wright, giving his interesting historical twist to everything. Once in a while someone jumps in who I've never heard of (although rarely), and I try to follow up and figure out who they are.

But in all of these shows, someone will make a comment about the resurrection that frustrates me to no end. This comment normally goes something like this, "the resurrection is a matter of faith, whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead is not as important as whether or not you believe it in your heart." Ugh. What junk. Unfortunately, I think that too many faithful believers would agree with this. However, that is not the position of the Bible.

Read 1 Corinthians 15 and you'll see the proper place of faith. The quote given in the last paragraph essentially says this: "the resurrection is true if you believe it in your heart." But, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul argues that our faith is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus. If the resurrection didn't happen, our faith is empty and useless (see especially vv12-19, you can click on the link for the NET Bible here on my page). If Jesus didn't actually rise from the dead in bodily form, our faith has nothing to stand on. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, we are wasting our time.

Those who claim that the resurrection is merely a matter of "faith" operate with a poor definition of "faith." They see faith and facts operating in different spheres. That is not Paul's understanding of faith as seen here in 1 Corinthians 15. He sees faith as needing the resurrection. We may not need to have a fact "proven" (what proof is needed, though, is fairly subjective), but that fact needs to be true- it can not be simply a matter of my personal opinoin.

Here's the point: our faith does not birth the resurrection and its truth and power. The truth and power of the resurrection birth our faith. The resurrection of Jesus happened, no matter what anyone believes. Just because I believe the resurrection happened doesn't make it any more true or powerful. It's truth and power do not derive from me. If I were to stop believing in the resurrection of Jesus (God forbid- literally), it would not cease to be true. Because it is true, I can believe. Praise God for the victory won for us, seen on the cross and in the empty tomb.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Preparation for Ministry, Preparation for Life

I suppose I was fairly young when I "felt called" to ministry. There was no amazing vision or angelic proclamation, just the sense that I should go in that direction. Unfortunately, like many at a young age, I had no idea what exactly that meant. I went to a Christian university where I studied the Bible, learned how to do exegesis and so on. I did my time in seminary where I learned some more about how to do exegesis and so on.

However, I've become enlightened a bit more in my old age. Ministry doesn't always turn out like it's supposed to. The "ideal" life of ministry is graduating seminary (or some other appropriate arena of training) and moving on to a church, who will pay you to minister in some capacity. There you will apply all that you learn and your church will love you forever.

For me, though, it's looked very different. I'm in a church, and I am ministering. I don't get paid, I'm not on staff and there's no chance of that happening any time soon. I'm fine with that, I love my church and have trouble seeing my future without being involved somehow. This is the church that I want to send me overseas someday, this is the church that has become my family here in Boston. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

That's not the issue. I have one simple problem: I don't know how to do anything. I'm currently working a job that uses almost none of my natural (or acquired) skills, nor is it something I particularly enjoy. The problem is that I don't really have much in the way of marketable skills in order to find another job. I only know two things: sports and the Bible. If I'm not getting paid to do either, I'm in trouble.

It's too late for me to pick up some skills. It's not that I'm old, I have time. It's a money issue, I already have loans to pay off, so I can't go back to school to do things I think I would be decent at. I think I would have made a decent teacher, especially in something like history. I would have been a great sports journalist (after all, I already know more than all those idiots, right?). I suppose there are any number of things I could do well, but at this point I'm fairly limited.

I always knew that ministry was more than working for a church. One can minister just as well in a non-Christian workplace as he can in a church building. I just never knew that I would be working in the "real world" (one of the worst cliches, I'm not sure what the "fake world" is). I never thought that I'd have to pick up a skill somewhere along the way in order to support my ministry habit like I'm doing now. I'm not complaining about my education, I wouldn't give that up, it's changed my life. But why didn't anyone tell me to double-major in college? Why couldn't I have been smart enough to realize this might happen?

Anyway, what I've learned is that preparation for ministry and preparation for life need to go hand-in-hand. Ministry looks less and less like the classic model as time goes on. The "lay minister" model is becoming more common, and thank God. I just never thought that'd be me. But praise God, because He wasn't surprised. And He just might have a plan to make it work out.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Roger Clemens: what do we do?

There's all sorts of talk right now here in Boston about whether or not the Sox will (or should) attempt to sign Roger Clemens some time this year. This is a painful subject for me personally. Like many who became baseball fans during the '80's, I loved Roger Clemens. He was my favorite player as a child. As time went on and he became lazy with the Sox, I grew to dislike him. Many people bash Dan Duquette for claiming that Clemens was washed up, but look at his numbers in his last couple years with the Red Sox. They weren't that good. Not "washed up", but not really good. But, he left the Sox, got in shape and became great again. Hence my extreme dislike for him

He's in a great position right now. Teams want him, and not just any teams- it's the teams with the most money to spend on him (Sox, Yankees, Astros and Rangers). And they all understand he won't sign with any of them for a while. He claims he wants to come back to a competitive environment and I think this is true- he won't play for a loser. However, let's not fool ourselves- he wants to get paid. If no team offers him more than $5 million he will not come back. Whatever team wants him will have to pony up the big bucks. That's just the way it is.

So should the Sox sign him? My heart says absolutely not. But, you don't win a World Series making decisions with your heart. Can he help this staff? Sure, only an idiot would say otherwise. Is it worth the money? That's a harder question to answer. I think it would be nice to keep him off the Yankees, but is that reason enough?

We also can't fool ourselves into thinking we'd be getting the best pitcher in the league. Look at his numbers before he signed with Houston and switched leagues- they weren't that great. They weren't awful, but it's obvious that his numbers the last couple years are skewed because he pitched in the National League. It's much easier to have an ERA under 2.00 when you get at least one guaranteed out every time through the order. Also, it was obvious that he had slowed down toward the end of last year- so it may actually be a good thing that he's going to sit out a while.

So should the Sox sign him? I don't know. I don't want to say yes, I'd feel like we're selling our soul or something. But there's no doubt he could help, especially if they suffer injuries to the starting rotation. He may also help young guys like Papelbon, who is very similar to a young Clemens. I just can't get over the fact that he's an ungrateful jerk who stopped trying for the Sox. When we talk about the greatest traitors in history I list him above Benedict Arnold and below Judas Iscariot (come one, betraying our Lord and Savior is far worse than betraying Boston). And no, I'm not bitter.